Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Goldstein's arguments for a fictional god

At Edge.org, John Brockman introduces a brief excerpt from the first chapter of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's forthcoming 2010 novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. Especially interesting in this preview, is the nonfiction appendix from the book -- it lists 36 arguments for the existence of god, and the reasons they each fail. Including "15. The Argument from the Inconceivability of Personal Annihilation":
  1. I cannot conceive of my own annihilation: as soon as I start to think about what it would be like not to exist, I am thinking, which implies that I would exist (as in Descartes' Cogito ergo sum), which implies that I would not be thinking about what it is like not to exist.

  2. My annihilation is inconceivable (from 1).

  3. What cannot be conceived, cannot be.

  4. I cannot be annihilated (from 2 & 3).

  5. I survive after my death (from 4)

  6. [The argument now proceeds on as in the argument from Survival After Death, only substituting in 'I' for 'a person,' until we get to:]
  7. God exists.

FLAW 1: Premise 2 confuses psychological inconceivability with logical inconceivability. The sense in which I can't conceive of my own annihilation is like the sense in which I can't conceive of those whom I love may betray me—a failure of the imagination, not an impossible state of affairs. Thus Premise 2 ought to read "My annihilation is inconceivable to me.", which is a fact about what my brain can conceive, not a fact about what exists.

FLAW 2: Same as Flaw 3 from The Argument from the Survival of Death.

COMMENT: Though logically unsound, this is among the most powerful psychological impulses to believe in a soul, and an afterlife, and God. It genuinely is difficult—not to speak of disheartening— to conceive of oneself not existing!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The public responds to our Coalition of Reason

Spotted on a Red Line train, 11/9/09.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scientology self-destructs a bit more

Ah, Boston -- the Athens of American, home to dozens of schools of higher learning. But even here, in this Beanpot of bibliophiles and brainiacs, the worst forms of collective delusion are able to survive. One of the more incredible organizations is Scientology, which houses its Boston programs in a lovely old brownstone building on Beacon Street in the Back Bay. In the past two years, Anonymous protesters have made a bit out noise out in front of their facility, but the Hubbardites are pretty snug in there... I don't think they're really considering dissolving their local activities just because a group of Guy Fawkes clones are inciting passing cars to honk their horns. The Church of Xenu, it often seems to me, is here to stay.

Which is why it is good to read about the increasingly bizarre public behavior, and increasingly rancorous internal politics, of Scientology's upper echelon. Optimistically, I'd like to label as just the latest step toward the cult's eventual collapse.

What Hitchens has learned from debating the religious

I haven't yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a "script" that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe.
-- Christopher Hitchens, the meanest Atheist in the world, in his latest column for Slate magazine.

Boston CoR ads on the Red Line, and in the Globe

Nora Delaney with Red Line ad

Visit the website of the Boston Coalition of Reason, or read about the BostonCor ad campaign in the Globe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hello, Atheists who saw the Chronicle show!

We've seen a surge in our web traffic today, which must have something to do with Channel 5's feature on the nonreligious community, those of us who are good without gods.

To those of you who are here looking for more information about the secular community in Boston, I suggest you start with the website of the Boston Coalition of Reason. This website will lead you to the individual websites for all of the most active local secular resources -- social groups, campus organizations, and secular congregations.

Attending a Boston Atheists brunch or pub night is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people in the area. Our events calendar is managed at our Meetup.com page.

Jackie Lavache is the Boston Atheist Examiner, and writes about life in Boston from an Atheist perspective as well as about events of interest to the secular community. Her articles are a great and often entertaining blend of blogger commentary and journalism -- check it out at Examiner.com.

As the Director of the Boston Atheists, I work with our group's assistant organizers to plan events, create a programming calendar, and work toward a greater sense of shared interests among our members. Feel free to email me if you'd like to ask questions directly about our organization. I am also the State Director of the American Atheists, and happy to answer your questions about that educational organization.

The Chronicle broadcast could only offer a limit ed view of our community. We're happy to meet new people, answer questions, and share our experiences. So please, come on out!

UPDATE 11:51 pm, 10/27/09:
PS: I am marginally irritated that the Mormons are riding on our bespoke secular coattails. The video advertisement preceding the fourth segment of the Channel 5 Chronicle web broadcast is selling LDS snake oil.

A recent poll...

... suggests that the frequency of rationality among Channel 5 viewers is unusually high. Note: this poll did not control for the higher percentage of rationalists who enjoy participating in web surveys. Nonetheless, it is an exciting number to see. I think we should aim at such numbers, and even higher.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Neumanns are sentenced, Kara still dead

Madeline Kara Neumann, born Dec 31, 1996; died Mar 22, 2008. Cause of death: religious delusion.

Dale and Leilani Neumann prayed over their suffering daughter, instead of procuring medical treatment for their condition. Their 11-year-old daughter died. Now, the Neumanns have been sentenced -- one month a year for the next six years, an unorthodox penalty which the judge hopes will give them time to "think about Kara and what God wants you to learn from this."

I want to view this as a Parthian victory of reason over superstition, but this judge's comment sets me straight. The conflict here was not between modernity and religion but between a religious couple that failed to do what their religious neighbors all do: dilute their faith with enough practical technology so as to avoid the unfortunate and inevitable fallout that occurs when one places one's fate in the hands of nonexistent beings. "Think about what God wants you to learn from this" -- not, "Your child died because you were playing make-believe."

An interesting point was made in the comments section:
And The Lord Said: don't eat shellfish. Because it's easier to say a god disapproves rather than telling people not to s**t in the water near where the bivalves are filtering the water and ingesting the toxins.
The implication here seems to be that religion is a way of spoon-feeding common sense to human beings that prefer to spit out their spinach all over their bib. Faced with such options -- a religious majority that uses just enough science to get through the day without upsetting their mythological sensibilities, and a secular minority that employs religious doctrine to save the great mass of humanity from their own self-destructive impulses -- I yearn for a third way.

More views at The New York Times, The Friendly Atheist, and BBC.

Please support the work of Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty, the non-profit national membership organization established in 1983 to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Jason Vines rebutts ahistorical wonkiness

Carl Wieland's editorial, "The blood-stained 'century of evolution'", is a howler. His opinions seem not to have been formed according to the highest standards of factual accuracy, let us say. As Beltway Atheists member Jason Vines -- operator of the Hypersyllogistic Forums -- writes, "this article has numerous problems." I saw Jason's response making the rounds on a mailing list, and thought it would be worth the read for readers of the BA Blog. Here is his ordered list of concise and matter-of-fact debunkings. - ZB

First, it engages in the logical fallacy we call the appeal to consequences. Any consequences of a proposition, be they good or ill, has no impact on whether the proposition is true or false.

Second, throughout most of human history, religion has sought totalitarian control over everyone's beliefs, thoughts, and actions. Within a religion's dominion, whoever did not submit to the religious authorities faced torture and death. Whomever lived outside religious authorities' control, these authorities often tried to convert through conquest. Few places on Earth have been free of the misery, oppression, and warfare that has resulted. The histories of Europe and Asia are particularly riven with suffering and bloodshed stemming from heretical dissent, sectarian rivalry, and interfaith hatred. If religion hasn't quite achieved the body count of Nazism and Communism, the only reason is that religious police and faithful combatants didn't have remote surveillance, gas chambers, machine guns, warplanes, battleships, tanks, missiles, and nukes.

Third, as a corollary to the above point, no ideological construct in human history has done more than religion to divide people into opposing groups, most of which believed they were the favored of God and hated the other groups. For example, Christians and Muslims hated Jews for centuries, the Christians because they nonsensically held Jews responsible for Christ's death, the Muslims because a group of Jews supposedly thought Mohammed was a charlatan when he told them God was communicating with him. The Nazis didn't invent the anti-Semitic hatred that drove the Holocaust; it was an ancient though still vibrant relic of religion.

Fourth, whereas some individual clergymen bravely resisted the Nazis, the Catholic Church as a political institution supported fascism around the world and collaborated with the Nazis, even to the extent of revealing files to them to help them determine who was sufficiently "pure" to avoid the gas chambers (and who was not). Many Protestant churches also cooperated with the Nazis. And, in Russia, the Orthodox Church served as a puppet of the state instead of resisting. And, of course, in both Germany and Russia, most people were Christians of one kind or another. Even Adolf Hitler was a member of the Catholic Church in good standing, although he made embellishments to the Christian mythos. And Joseph Stalin, even though he became an atheist, had trained as a monk; I guess extensive religious teaching didn't dampen his homicidal tendencies.

Fifth, to the extent that the Nazis and the Communists did aim to supplant religion, the replacement was another kind of unreasoning faith: worship of an all-encompassing state. The totalitarianism that flowed from that had nothing to do with unshackling man's reason or Darwinian evolution by natural selection, but with squashing them.

Sixth, the article mischaracterizes Darwin's work. Darwin was a scientist who merely studied life and recorded what he found. "Might makes right" and other such drivel has nothing to do with Darwin or with evolution, which just concerns inheritance of traits through successive generations and fitness for particular environments. I must note, though, "might makes right" adeptly describes much of religious ideology and history. Think of the admonitions in many religious texts that if the will of a particular deity isn't followed, divine and earthly punishment will ensue.

Seventh, I disagree with the article about the implications of abandoning God and embracing evolution. As I've written before, God is not an alternative to man's will but serves as a vessel into which man pours his will and hopes to escape responsibility for it. The erosion of the God concept doesn't mean an ill-equipped humanity starts making moral decisions; humanity has done that all along. But society might become more self-reflective and willing to deal with its flaws without a divine scapegoat for them.

Also, I think realizing that man is only another animal that evolved over billions of years from microscopic life, and that genetics shreds arbitrary notions of "race" while confirming everyone's unqualified and equal membership in the human species, would encourage treatment of the planet and each other with more humility and respect than religion has engendered. In that respect, Darwinian evolution isn't divisive but unifying.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Give me an S! Give me an E! Give me a...

... P, and (to make a long story short) -A-R-A-T-I-O-N O-F C-H-U-R-C-H A-N-D S-T-A-T-E.

Here's the story. High school cheerleaders in Tennessee have been waving banners with Bible verses on them at school sporting events, an admittedly minor but blazingly obvious violation of church-state separation. The superintendent ended this practice. Some people see this as a problem. The article about this brouhaha has attracted several kinds of readers to the comment thread. Their responses display the full range of predictable attitudes, including:

- calls for complacency,
"I think they should allow the football team and the cheerleaders decide if they want the sign. Obviously the students dont have the problem it is an adult in the audience that has the problem. If that is what the students want then let them do it. Lets not limit their freedom of speech. If more schools would teach bible verses and right and wrong there would be less violence and vain activities going on in our schools. I say let the kids have their say. Let them show their feelings." [Username: Snooksie | On: September 29, 2009 at 9:45 a.m.]

- Aggressive bigotry... "If you READ the Constitution, the First Amendment guarantees Freedom OF Religion, NOT freedom FROM religion. There is a fundamental difference. It also guarantees Freedom of Speach. I would say that some ignorant people are trying to violate the cheerleaders Constitutional Rights. But then again Liberals don't care about anyone's rights but theirs, and the people that follow them blindly. Kind of like taking care of sheep while you're leading them to the packing plant..." [Username: grumpyoldb | On: September 29, 2009 at 4:24 p.m.]

- Complaints of persecution... "As long as it is STUDENT LED there is NO SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. All schools should support this and quit letting the select few be the voice for the majority. Pastor Martin Niemoller, who later became head of the World Council of Churches, and was an outspoken critic of the Hitler regime, gave a number of speeches in which he used various versions of the following well-known poem..." [Username: The_Badger | On: September 29, 2009 at 9:48 a.m.]

- Secular criticism... "It's not an uplifting view. It's indoctrination." [Username: rdecredico | On: September 29, 2009 at 10:35 a.m.]

- Rationalistic irritation... "Yes I will agree that I disagree with many here. The worst is people repeating, repeating, repeating totally false statements. That is how stupidity prevails. Opinions are one thing, those will of course vary. I respect your right to have an opinion. Respect mine. I don't respect the right to make false claims (ie prayer taken out of schools)." [Username: FormerChattanoogaResident | On: September 29, 2009 at 11:09 a.m.]

... and so on. Food for thought, all this. A pressing question for our growing secular movement is that of engaging with those on the other side of the belief line. How can we persuade our neighbors that it doesn't serve religious freedom to promote the views of a single religion? These cheerleaders, well-intended though certainly seem to be, are unwitting enemies of reason, and allies to superstition and division.

To be clear, I don't think that these cheerleaders are the victims of overzealous anti-religionists using the Constitution to trample on protected speech (as I write above, the violation of the establishment clause is blatantly obvious). But they are victims -- of religious training. In such cases of mental abuse, I prescribe a strict regime of Sagan, Dawkins, Ingersoll, and critical thinking three times a day. Let us pray for their swift recovery, shall we?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In God They Trust: On Tribal Competition

A chain email came to the BA inbox today, which encourages citizens of quality and conscience to write "IN GOD WE TRUST" on the back of all the envelopes they send through the US Mail. This message has been making the rounds, it seems, garnering many enthusiastic gruntings in the blogosphere. The email reads:
Payback is fun!!!!!!!!!!!!! WRITE IT ON THE BACK OF YOUR ENVELOPES or front WE THINK THIS IS A GREAT IDEA. WE'LL START WRITING IT ON THE FRONT OF OUR ENVELOPES, TOO! ----------Including Bills You may have heard in the news that a couple of Post Offices in Texas have been forced to take down small posters that say 'IN GOD WE TRUST ,' The law, they say, is being violated. Anyway, we heard proposed on a radio station show, that we should all write ' IN GOD WE TRUST' on the back of all our mail. After all, that's our National Motto, and ----- all the money we use to buy stamps. We think it's a wonderful idea. We must take back our nation from all the people who think that anything that offends them should be removed. If you like this idea, please pass it on and DO IT. The idea of writing or stamping......... 'IN GOD WE TRUST ' on our envelopes sounds good to us. SOME PEOPLE ARE HAVING A STAMP MADE TOO.........lets use it as our signature on e-mails, too! It's been reported that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, we have a very hard time understanding why there's such a mess about having 'In God We Trust!' on our money and having God in the pledge of Allegiance. Could it be that WE just need to take action and tell the 14% to 'sit down and shut up'? If you agree, pass this on, if not, delete!!! BUT REMEMBER IF YOU DELETE THIS, that's one reason why this world is in the mess we're in now. WE SIT BACK & LET IT HAPPEN!! IN GOD WE TRUST
This message, with its characteristic orthography and paranoia, might be seen as frightening. Who are these irrational people, who believe in absurd gods? Who live vicariously through the Bible, instead of being present here in the real world, which so desperately needs their attention? Do these people vote -- and if so, what kind of irrational policies do they support? Do they raise children -- and if so, what kind of awful indoctrination are these kids having to suffer through?

I could understand being frightened by these thoughts. But I'm not really bothered by it. I see a lot of this kind of glurge going around the web, but it is in decline, and where it is seen, it is definitely not mainstream. People simply have less tolerance for this kind of befuddled tribalism. That's a good way to think about it, actually. I'm not frightened -- I'm irritated, by the members of the Jehovah Tribe.

One of the many reasons why this world is in a mess -- why we never come close to fulfilling our potential as citizens and neighbors and fellow human beings -- is because some people are tribalistic. When they see the markings of their tribe being degraded, they react with gleeful defiance, and often with violence. They circulate messages online, encouraging their fellow tribespeople to "take back the nation" from people who disagree with them. They tell those other people to "sit down and shut up."

Call me an optimist, but I happen to think that this kind of primitive thinking is on the way out. It isn't compatible with a modern world, in which computers enable communication between distant parts of the globe, where economic plenty means longer lives and higher standards of living than ever, and where easily accessible education means an escape from Bronze Age tribal beliefs.

There are too many problems that need our attention, to waste time dealing with the hooting ignorance of tribespeople. Who cares if they mark the back of their envelopes with the signs of their superstitious tribe? It will keep them busy while the adults among us keep busy with the real business at hand.

I don't mean to sound disdainful. Most of these folks -- near all of them -- are a lot better than the beliefs they profess. But beliefs can be insidious and hard to uproot, especially without disturbing all the values that they would have anyway but which have become entangled in those religious doctrines. I don't feel disdain for the people who are scared to realize that Christianity is on the wane; I feel bad for them. They have a tough time going. One thing they can feel comforted by is that "the other team" isn't tribalistic, and doesn't have any reason to be anything but reasonable and compassionate. We're all in this together -- notwithstanding the sneering of some folks who would rather be members of tribes locked in competition for national predominance.

For the record, the phrase "In God We Trust" was not recognized as an official U.S. motto until 1956, though it appeared on some coinage as early as 1865. I prefer "E pluribus unum." As for the facts behind the original message, in 2002 the USPS ordered the removal of "In God We Trust" posters that had been printed and distributed by a private party to some post offices in Texas. The problem wasn't the slogan, but rather postal regulations that prohibit "depositing or posting of handbills, flyers, pamphlets, signs, posters, placards, or other literature (except official postal and other governmental notices and announcements) in interior public areas on postal premises."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Politics and Irrationality

Johann Hari considers the relationship between Republicans, religion, and unreason, over at The Independent. From the column:
How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality? It begins, I suspect, with religion. They are taught from a young age that it is good to have "faith" – which is, by definition, a belief without any evidence to back it up. You don't have "faith" that Australia exists, or that fire burns: you have evidence. You only need "faith" to believe the untrue or unprovable. Indeed, they are taught that faith is the highest aspiration and most noble cause. Is it any surprise this then percolates into their political views? Faith-based thinking spreads and contaminates the rational.
Not that theistic belief compels one to hew to one side or the other of any political divide... we all know intelligent and contentious people who vote for the other party. If you don't, then you should get out there and make some more friends. Political miscegenation saves us from putting on blinders ourselves, and means we're doing our part to mitigate the influence of The Other Team on its adherents.

Given the tenor (read: venom) of the ongoing town hall events, I think this is a good time to affirm the utter rationality of abstaining from prejudicial political denouncements of those with whom we disagree. Has anyone else been struck sober and cold by the fury -- formed by and fed by irrational beliefs -- shown at these recent political events? Just goes to show how valuable critical thinking can be, if its absence can lead to such derangement.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Farewell, Therese

BA member Therese -- you'll know her as being very pleasant and mostly Swedish -- is going to be moving away from Boston shortly. Sad news for us, but good luck to her. As a parting salvo, she's sent us a link to her blog, USAtheists -- a "lighthouse for believers in a life after death." Judging from the most recent entry, this will be worth checking regularly:
America took a good step against religulous intolerance last week when the American Psychological Associations officially declared that homosexuality is natural and cannot be cured. This ethical standpoint is based on extensive examination of the last 40 years of research.

How will this scientific evidence affect the religious fundamentalists in America? Likely not at all as they perceive homosexuality as work of a "devil". Many churches still refuse homosexuals into their clergy (what ever happened to that "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself", Leviticus 19:18?) but others go even further to create victims. This youtube clip from a Connecticut church shows exorcism performed on a 16 year old boy who is in convulsions on the floor.What year it took place? Well... 2009.

But now we have it in black and white: homosexuality cannot be cured. And just to make things absolutely clear: heterosexuality cannot be cured either.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Poem: "Creationism at Calvary Chapel"

And here's to the city of Boston!
The land of the bean and the cod:
Where Harvard taught science to Jeanson
But Jeanson hears nothing but "God".

by Adam Cuerden

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Report on Nathaniel Jeanson's Creationism lecture

Member Steve Wertheim went to the 7:00 session of yesterday's lecture at the Calvary Chapel in the City worship service, a program entitled "Evolution: Bankrupt Science. Creationism: Science you can bank on" on 8/16. He wrote a report on his observations for the BA message board, which corresponds in large degree to my own experiences at the earlier presentation of the same lecture earlier that day. He writes:

In front of a church group audience, seemingly composed of young people with no background in science, Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson, a recent PhD graduate of Harvard:

1. Distorted the nature of science and the scientific method.

2. Distorted the meaning of actual scientific work, such as that of the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.

3. Denied the reality of the single most important unifying concept in biology, that of evolution by natural selection.

4. Presented junk science as reliable, such as that of Michael Behe, John Morris and Russell Humphreys.

5. Repeated discredited arguments for the existence of the supernatural, such as "irreducible complexity". For this he used his own research, claiming that the 6 interacting components in the vitamin D regulatory cycle could not have been produced by evolution and must have been created by a supernatural intelligence.

6. Appealed to what has been termed the "argument from ignorance" (reflecting his intellectual limitations). His comment on Vitamin D regulation was "It is difficult to conceive how you could evolve this". I don't claim to be an expert in this field, but I do know that evolutionary mechanisms for all examples of "irreducible complexity" claimed by Michael Behe (a crackpot with tenure who originated the idea) have been provided by real scientists.

[This is especially baffling, consider how well a job I thought I did in the morning presentation at walking him through a rebuttal of all arguments that work from the grounds of "irreducible complexity" (IC). If all science is based on observation, and only on observation, as Jeanson said at the start of his lecture, then it is irrational for a research to look at a complex system and label it IC. To make this claim is to assert that we have been able to observe all the precursor systems that led up to the current system, and that in all of that evolutionary history, there were never any components that are now missing but which when present would have allowed for reducible complexity. The analogy I made was to a stone arch; remove a stone and the structure collapses, but we could only call it irreducibly complex if we failed to realize that there was once a scaffold that allowed the thing to be built in a step-wise fashion, stone by stone. IC is at best an admission of ignorance, but in no circumstances can it be construed as a meaningful biological term. It literally describes nothing. Jeanson might have understood this before his lecture or he might not, but after our exchange he has no excuse for using the same reasoning at the later lecture. -- Zachary Bos]

7. Claimed that "eyewitness accounts" are the most reliable, in science as in a court of law. In fact, eyewitness accounts in legal proceedings are notoriously unreliable, and there would not be much science if we only had our eyes to rely on. But the kicker is that the real points he was making were:
a. The eyewitness account of Yaweh, who was present at the creation, is the most reliable information we have about origins.

b. "One cannot answer historical questions scientifically", because there were no eyewitnesses.

8. Stated that his "colleagues at Harvard" view the lack of a demonstrable mechanism for the origin of life from non-life as the "worst evolutionary problem".
[Is this view shared by former supervisor, Dr. David Scadden of the Harvard Stem Cell Institutce, or by Dr. Catherine Dulac, Chair of the Dept. of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard? -- Z.B.]

9. Made a series of outrageously false claims outside his research field, including:
a. The Earth is 6,000 years old, because the Bible tells us so.

b. There are "no direct scientific measurements for the age of the Earth".

c. The Earth is "at or near the center of the universe".

d. Radiometric dating of rocks (and therefore the accepted age of the Earth) is fatally flawed and can lead to a measured Earth age of 6,000 years as easily as an age of 4.6 billion years.

e. "Evolution says the Big Bang occurred 15 billion years ago." (Two mistakes in one sentence!)

f. Radioactive decay probably happened at an accelerated rate in the past.

g. Geologic formations such as the Grand Canyon and bio-geologic formations such as coal, can and do form rapidly and "catastrophically".

h. There are few, if any, transitional forms in the fossil record.

i. The mind is not a direct product of brain activity, and in fact, to suggest that the mind is directly related to the brain is a "self-defeating statement".

j. Living species did not evolve from a common ancestor, based on molecular biologic evidence. He used comparisons of the cytochrome c protein sequence for this, and ignored the whole genome sequences available for many of the same plants and animals. This was an especially unconvincing tactic for someone who claims to be a biologist.

Suffice it to say that each and every one of his points was either a distortion (e.g. Stephen Jay Gould's theory of "punctuated equilibrium" exposes a weakness in evolutionary theory), an irrelevant red herring (e.g. evolution leads to immorality), or an outright lie (e.g. there are few, if any, transitional forms in the fossil record).

His ignorance of anything outside the creationist literature, coupled with his intellectual arrogance was truly shocking for someone who claims to be educated.

All of this would be laughable if it were not in front of a credulous audience, if the percentage of people who believe in creationism in the US were not at a steady 45% and if the responsible teaching of science in our public schools were not under continual attack from people such as Dr. Jeanson.

His performance in the Q&A session was no better.

1. When asked if his religious views affected how he practices science, he said that while he does not believe that the vitamin D regulatory loop evolved, the question never came up in the course of daily research. Of course I know that the big questions are not the stuff of most daily research, but when I was a graduate student, all we talked about at the bench, while doing our monotonous tasks, were the big questions – the principles, the hottest new research and what the latest Science or Nature paper meant. It's a shame that Nathaniel Jeanson was impervious to this crucial part of his education. It's a shame he missed out on appreciating the central organizing principle of biology, and one of the greatest achievements of the human mind.

2. He was asked if he was aware that 2 sets of Nobel Prizes have been given for the confirmation of the Big Bang; that the theoretical underpinnings were provided by Einstein, Gamow, Friedmann, Weinberg and Hawking; that a 13.7 billion year age for the universe is accepted by all working physicists; and that (contrary to his claim that one cannot answer historical questions scientifically) the COBE and WMAP satellites have provided pictures of the early universe 400,000 years after the Big Bang. He merely responded that his “colleagues" at the ICR (meaning Russell Humphreys) have "alternative explanations" for these data. When asked if this means that Russell Humphreys is smarter than Einstein and Hawking, he had no answer.

3. When asked about the fossil hominids, he repeated the creationist canard that they are either apes or humans, not transitional forms.

4. When asked about the genome sequencing and bio-informatics work of Prof. Eric Lander of the Broad Institute and MIT, which demonstrates common ancestry and species relationships through analysis of genome sequencing data, he had no response and moved on to another question.

Apparently this is all part of his career path, as he is giving out business cards from his new position at the Institute for Creation Research - a set of hilarious crackpots who claim they are doing "research" that supports the inerrancy of the literal Bible. Of course, they know the answer already, now they are just trying to make the data fit the result they want. Since this is difficult, what they primarily do is write treatises about how science is a conspiracy, why the NSF and NIH grant committees won't fund them, and why no actual journals will publish their "research".

At the ICR, I'm sure that Dr. Jeanson will be well paid, while doing no publishable research, merely because he has a Harvard degree and there is an audience for his message. He will be "banking on" it. I wouldn't be surprised if some of his grad school income came from the ICR all along. It should cause all of us to be wary of the tactics of these intellectually and morally dishonest people.

Thanks for the reporting, Steven. Another first-hand report is up on the Pharyngula blog. Readers may want to grit their teeth and visit CreationWiki, "a free encyclopedia of apologetics that is being produced by an international team of missionaries." Sounds very scientific.

Boston Atheists Report 1.13

Our mid-August podcast, recorded 8/16/2009. Topics: Internet conversion video; Texas law requires students to study Christian holy book this fall; Idaho also plans to teach Christian Bible. Roundtable: evolution and creationism and science, oh my!

Download this podcast from our website, or, look for us on iTunes!

Sources Cited:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The 3 Myths of AA: Myth 1 - AA is not a Religion

This article was originally posted in my personal blog, which has since been deleted when I became an examiner. However, I have decided to rework and repost these articles on AA here, removing some of the more personal aspects and focusing more on the argument and my personal experiences with AA without specifically identifying certain people.

Alcoholism is a serious problem and it is widely believed that the only solution that works is the 12 Step Program, also known as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA also has a related organization known as Al-Anon, which is meant for the relatives and friends of those with alcoholism.

I'm very familiar with how AA operates because alcoholism has affected me through many people in my life who have suffered from this debilitating addiction. I've seen AA work and I’ve seen it fail. I want to clarify my stance on AA before I become critical. If AA works for you, that's great! I’m happy for anyone that can find sobriety using this program, as that’s what is most important. However, at the same time, it's not the only option and people suffering from AA need to be informed of those other options. My only concern is to help people understand what AA truly is, and to seek the appropriate avenue to becoming sober whether it’s through this program or other secular means. My biggest criticisms do not come from AA being a complete and total failure because it's not. My criticisms stem from the misinformation it promotes that potentially damages the ability for other people to get sober. I'm referring to the misinformation that AA promotes as the 3 Myths of AA and they are as follows: 1) AA is not religion 2) Alcoholism is a disease/you're not in control and 3) AA is the only solution.

In this post I want to address the first myth that says AA is not a religion. Let's look again at the 12 Step Website where all 12 steps of the program are laid out for you on the main page. Let's note steps 3,5,6,7, and 11. All those steps reference God. But who is their God? That is actually defined in step 2.

"2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity"

Here we have God defined as a "Higher Power" that is the only one who can help you through your addiction. So in order for you to get anything out of this program you must believe in a God and that God has intercessory powers.

Now, let's look at the Definition of Religion:

"A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects."

Looking again at the 12 steps we can see that they are a specific set of beliefs and practices that its members are required to adhere to. You cannot get anymore basic than this. So if you are an atheist and wish to get help, your beliefs are immediately in conflict with the tenants of AA.

I have been encouraged to go to Al-Anon, a subset of AA for people who aren’t alcoholics but are affected by people who are. I knew that AA required a belief in God and I did not see how a group that requires I believe that God will solve my problems would benefit me. You know what the stock response to that objection was every time? "Your higher power doesn't have to be a God; it can be a tree or a rock." My response, which never seemed to register, was: I do not have a higher power. They seem to conveniently ignore the fact that atheism doesn’t deny their god, but every god, and this includes nature worship. We do not accept any higher power at all, therefore we could never possibly benefit from an organization that insists we do. Furthermore, by insisting that a “Higher Power” can be a tree or a rock shows a complete lack of respect for atheists and for the god they are saying helps them stay sober. Let's be honest, if you believe in an intercessory god that saves you from alcoholism, it's not a rock.

The attempt at being an open organization for theists and atheists fails miserably. They fail to understand what an atheist is and pretend it has it both ways by saying your "Higher Power" can be whatever you want it to be. They try to sneak that in by referring to God with the phrase “as we understood Him". I have had people claim it is a spiritual organization, but not only does that leave out non-spiritual people, it is a description that continues to try and pretend it's not a religion when it most clearly is.

It is very evident to me that people in AA are mostly Christian. They will deny that's the case but it is blatantly obvious once you get to know the program. All the tenants of AA match with the ideology of the Christian religion, especially Catholicism. Christians believe they are full of sin from birth of which they have no control over and need Jesus to save them. AA promotes the disease theory, which makes alcoholism beyond their control and they must have God save them from their illness. People in AA know who their "Higher Power" is and it's the Christian God. In Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode about 12 Stepping which I highly recommend watching), they actually visit the AA headquarters and inside the building they had Christian crosses everywhere. Whenever people I know go to an AA meeting it's most often at a Catholic church hall. I've even been to AA meetings and it's very obvious to me what they mean when they say God.

Most importantly, in regards to AA as a religion, it is now becoming unconstitutional to give people a court order to attend AA. One court case example is reported in San Francisco where a Buddhist sued for being forced into a religious program. Another example of this happening is in Wisconsin. The simple fact is that ordering anyone into AA is a violation of Church and State because AA is a religion. End of story.

How can we possibly have an organization that claims to be the only way to keep you sober blatantly exclude those of a non Judeo-Christian faith, especially those without any faith at all? Luckily there is another option. There is something known as Secular Sobriety which is an organization that does not subscribe to any faith or religion as a means to sobriety.

In my next post on AA I will discuss the concept that alcoholism is a disease.

G Hunters

Jay Novella, from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, has a made a short movie that parodies the popular show Ghost Hunters on SyFy. (Yes, Sci-Fi channel is now SyFy. I died a little inside when I saw that.) Anyway, it's only about 20 minutes long and it's pretty funny. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Boston Atheists Report 1.11

Our mid-July podcast, recorded 7/15/2009. Daniel Radcliffe's coming-out; BA Harry Potter viewing; Boston Skepchick Rebecca Watson gets married!; Amanda Donaldson fired for being an atheist; methods of atheist news-spreading and community mobilizing. Roundtable: friendly atheism is better atheism (part one).

Download this podcast from our website, or, look for us on iTunes!

Sources Cited:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cancer patient fired from job for being an atheist, now needs financial help

Amanda Donaldson is an atheist suffering from breast cancer and earlier this year lost her job and health insurance because she is an atheist. Now she needs your help to pay for the overwhelming medical bills that come with this devastating illness. The story is heartbreaking and highlights the injustices many atheists face in today's world.

For the full story on how Amanda was fired please go here

This story was also featured on examiner.com by Stacy Cornell, the Dallas Atheism Examiner. You can read her articles here and here.

To find out how you can donate, please vist her website's donation page. Let's show everyone that atheists can be just as charitable as those who claim a moral authority from god.

(This was reposted from my examiner.com article.)

How True is This?

Now be honest, how many of you had the same exact conversation with their mother? I know I did. Granted I didn't use fancy language and just said I was just agnostic at the time and yet the reaction was just the same.

Years later I realized I was "one of those atheists", but I think my mother had time to get used to the idea.

While I find the cartoon amusing, it's also sad how true this is. Atheism is seen as a dirty word, and people would rather you call yourself anything but that.

In recent examiner articles I discussed how it can be harder to come out atheist as opposed to coming out gay, and how gay atheists can sometimes feel left out of the gay community.

In what other ways can atheism seem worse than an equally oppressed minority?

Friday, July 10, 2009

A show of good will

The official policy of the Boy Scouts of America repudiates homosexuality and atheism. This leaves us more open-minded individuals with a decision -- when confronted with an opportunity to support a program that has a largely positive influence on youth, do we grit our teeth and pitch in -- hoping that our charity isn't seen as endorsement of the bigoted 'company line' -- or do we stand in principle and take our charity elsewhere? I just got back from the local post office, where I was dropping a carton of books in the mail:
  • The Backyard Astronomer's Guide
  • Princeton Field Guide to Stars and Planets
  • Burnham's Celestial Handbook (all three volumes)
  • Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds
  • Audubon Field Guide to North American Trees
  • Audubon Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders
  • Audubon Pocket Guide to Familiar Mushrooms
These were donated by BA members in response to an inquiry from a Boy Scout camp in Connecticut. Disclosure: I was once a counselor there, and the director contacted me personally to ask if I could provide some teaching materials for the staff of the Joe George Nature Pavilion. Knowing that the BA crowd is full of science- and nature-lovers, I thought this would be a good opportunity to show some good will. Assistant Organizer Nora sent out an email asking for donations. In response, some members promised to send books, and others stated their objections to the Boy Scouts' policies. I think both positions are justified, but in the end I myself decided to purchase some new nature handbooks. The books won't be resold and turned into hard cash destined for the coffers of the national organization. The books won't be used to fuel a bonfire, over which is hung wood-carved effigies of Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins. My decision wasn't so fraught with self-contradiction, because I know that they will be going directly to the young Scout staff who teach nature topics to young Scouts at the camp.

The Boy Scouts of America discriminates against gays and Atheists. If we need to respond to this prejudice at all, I think it is best that we do so by objecting to their policies while helping their kids. By showing good will, we show the bigots what a good turn really looks like.

If any BA members have suggestions for other we can embarrass the BSA national office with charity, or recommendations of other youth organizations who might benefit from similar book donations, please make it known to the group organizers. Below, the bookplate affixed to the inside cover of each donated book.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Boston Atheists Report 1.10

Our end-of-June podcast, recorded 6/28/2009. Topics: New England Humanists Outing; Examiner.com providing atheist publicity in new instance of an old media model; Connecticut church attempts to exorcise teenager's homosexual spirits; France covers up burqas. Roundtable: acerbic advocates of atheism.

Download this podcast from our website, or, look for us on iTunes!

Sources Cited:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Boston Atheists Report 1.9

Our end-of-May podcast, recorded 5/30/2009. Topics: Daniel Hauser update; God hates the Celtics!; atheists alleged to have daddy issues; antichrist alleged to be homosexua; secular pinky swear; Catholic demonstrators on the Common. Roundtable: the purpose of secular media like our podcast.

Download this podcast from our website, or, look for us on iTunes!

Sources Cited:

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Conspiracy of Silence

I cam across this article on on reddit.com, in which the author shows how the lack of contemporary evidence for Jesus is very problematic in claiming he is a historical figure. He starts out by painting a simple picture, you are writing a paper and want to find first hand accounts of our first president:

But, as you comb the records, you find something strange: you cannot seem to locate any first-hand sources. Though Washington is claimed to have done many wonderful things - leading the Continental Army, freeing the American colonies from British rule, presiding over the convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution, becoming the first President of the United States - somehow, there are no records of these deeds written by people who actually saw them happen, or even by people who were alive at the time. The historians who were alive during Washington's lifetime, as well as the ones that lived soon afterward, do not mention him at all. The first mentions of him come in disputed and scattered records written decades after his death; over time, these mentions grow more numerous until, by about a hundred years after his death, a chorus of historians who had never seen or met Washington themselves all testify to his existence and his deeds. It is their writings, not any first-hand evidence, that have filtered down to modern times to create the abundance of records we have today.

Would you begin to conclude that there was something very wrong here?

While this is not the case, and we do have a lot of contemporary evidence for George Washington, and even far back as Herod and Caeser, who existed during the same time period that Jesus is said to have existed, there is no first hand account of Jesus at all, especially the amazing miracles he is said to have performed.

To assume that not a single person who witnessed these monumental events would have felt compelled to write them down, or that no one bothered to preserve those records if they had, violates all standards of credulity. Jesus' healings alone, if news of them became generally known, would have attracted a flood of people from every corner of the Roman Empire desperate to be cured of their ailments; and if in addition news got out of his ability to revive the dead, as the gospels say it did (Matthew 9:25-26), those crowds would have been multiplied tenfold. Surely at least one person somewhere would have written about this, even if only to dismiss it as a peasant superstition. And events such as the darkening of the sun and the resurrection of the saints, if they really happened, would have left a vivid imprint on humanity's collective memory and would have produced a flood of awed and astonished records. To suggest that the succeeding generation simply let all memory of them disappear crosses the line from unbelievable to absurd.

The article goes on to discuss the Apologists's Arguments for the existence of Jesus. I recommend reading the essay in full when you get the chance.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

French court to try Scientology

What? Les juges fran├žais have signed up for E-meter therapy and purification packs? No, no -- pardon the titular grammatical ambiguity. What I mean is that the Church of Scientology is to be tried in a French court for “organised fraud” -- in this case, the alleged fraud being that senior Church members illegally prescribed pharmaceuticals.

Even if auditing didn't rid her of those pesky thetans, treatment in this case had the profound benefit of elevating the plaintiff's mental functioning so she was able to detect... malarky and shenanigans! Despite being squeezed out of 20,000 euros (S28,000) for lessons, books, drugs, and an engram-detecting E-meter, the female victim in the case finally came to her senses -- thanks for the help, Hubbard! -- and went to the state for assistance.

My blogger hat goes off to Jean-Christophe Hullin, the investigating magistrate in the fraud case, who for years has been making life unpleasant for French Scientologists. Interestingly, at the end of the Yahoo article I link to above, I read that the US State Department has apparently been giving the French heat for harassing Scientology. On whose say-so, and according to what policy, are our State Department personnel being motivated to mollycoddle poppycock? Maybe they can be given a good dose of auditing -- with all the attendant costs and null effect -- in hopes of obtaining the same positive outcome as our French plaintiff: total rejection of a fatuous belief system. Let us be wary of remission!

Read what other judges have to say about Scientology at Xenu.net.

Thank goodness for L. Ron's crazy cult: it gives Atheists and Christians something to agree on:

NB: This cartoon was originally about OS wars, a topic I know is close to many hearts in the Boston Atheists community.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Boston Atheists Report 1.10

Our mid-May podcast, recorded 5/16/2009. Guest: Margaret Rowley. Topics: evangelizing American soldiers; homobigoted beauty queens; Bristol Palin breaks irony meter by promoting effectiveness of abstinence; Seth McFarlane champions public rise of atheism; Christian Scientists abuse children. Forum: education and homeschooling

[Edited on January 1, 2010, to remove link to live download: Only the most current ten episodes of the Boston Atheists Report are available for immediate streaming. Please email us if you'd like to be sent earlier episodes.]

Look for us on iTunes!

Sources Cited:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Miss California and the Freedom of Speech

I was planning to blog about how Carrie Prejean was able to keep her Miss California crown and her grossly incorrect characterization of free speech. However I find myself not needing to, as Keith Olbermann once again gets the point across in words better than my own:

I will, however, comment on Prejean's statement that she had "God in her head and her wanted her to witness to everyone." Isn't you all-powerful God strong enough to get the message across if he really wanted to? Why would he use the platform of a Miss USA pageant?

I'm always amused when people make statements like this. It displays how unabashedly arrogant the religious can be when they think God is speaking to them. God is so often just a tool people use to prop up their own bigotry.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Boston Nonsense Watch: The 2012 Phenomenom

According to the organizers of the upcoming Emergence Project conference,
The current period through and beyond the year 2012 heralds a unique time in the cycle of human history and is a profound transition referenced in many different spiritual traditions, including Mayan, Christian, Hindu, Hopi, and Taoist. [...] The conference includes presentations from four well-known experts and a special series of workshops. Topics include the Mayan background and history associated with the 2012 shift; the scientific and astronomical underpinnings for wide-scale planetary change; and, most importantly, how, on a practical and existential level, individuals can move beyond the limitations of fear-based thinking towards a positive, mindful, and meaningful engagement towards a sustainable, egalitarian world.
The organizers hope "to offer a unique platform for exploring the amazing opportunity for growth and change that the 2012 phenomenon presents," for $195.00. Boston Nonsense Watch official recommendation: the wisdom on offer in the chambers of this event isn't worth $2, let alone $200.

We can hope that this first 2012 conference is the last, but New Age is a hydra with many heads. The sponsor of all this nonsense is an outfit called The Emergence Project. Their charter is a patchwork of millennialist doomsdayism and New Age earnestness:
As the world becomes increasingly chaotic and the structures and systems that we have relied on for centuries seem to be failing, The Emergence Project seeks to examine the relationship between the current state of humanity and the shift in consciousness that has been predicted throughout the ages centering on the year 2012. We are a concerned group of spiritually-aware individuals who seek to explore the opportunities that currently engage our awareness and who also believe that change is simply the sum total of our collective intent to not only experience the shift but affect its outcome in a positive and constructive way. The Emergence Project seeks to bring available information, understandings and resources together on the subject of 2012 and provide a platform for in-depth discussion, dialog and debate around the issues, experiences and implications of the 2012 phenomenon. Above all, the Emergence Project seeks to educate, prepare, and empower both the individual and communities for the coming paradigm shift.
Conference co-chair Annette Farrington seems to be the driving force behind The Emergence Project; she's a local -- from Winchester, MA -- so we can look forward to similar convergences of the ridiculous with the expensive in the Boston area. Of course, her reign of nonsense can't last very long, if the predictions about 2012 come true.

Ben Tremblay over at Daily Common Sense has a series of articles explaining why we should not be too terribly worried about the fatal augers that point to 2012 as the end of it all.

Boston Nonsense Watch is a free service of the Boston Atheists.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Does this prove that religion is baloney?

Jackie examines myth of Atheists persecuting Christians

Over at Examiner.com, our own Jackie Lavache -- Boston Atheism Examiner -- examines the oft-cited claim that Christians are persecuted by secularists hell-bent on reining in the free expression of religion. Writes Jackie:
He further complains that atheists have brought lawsuits to “stop ecumenical Christmas displays, or to expunge the mere mention of God from the public discourse.” What if the displays were of the Qur’an or Hindu gods? Would he fight for their right to exist on public property? Of course he wouldn't, because in his mind this is a "Christian Nation" and everyone else must shut up and put up-- a true violation of the First Amendment. Atheists don’t want atheist symbols in the place of Christian, rather they want no symbols so that no one gets offended or oppressed whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, etc…
Quite rightly examined, Jackie. The expression of personal traditions -- the religious kind are the most prominent -- does not need, and indeed should reject, government sponsorship in the form of funding, placement on government property, or preferential acknowledgement. The quick corollary to such seemingly benign support is preferential support, which leads easily to exclusive support. The solution is not to invite all traditions (be they secular, supernaturalist, or other) to queue up for billboard space on government property. Such a scheme would drown the courthouse lawn come December in the trappings of every sectarian holiday. Instead, such expression should take place in the private sphere -- homes, etc. -- and only in the public space when they are the immediate act of individuals. This guideline would preserve freedom of speech and separation of church and state. Smartly examined, Jackie.

Aronson on Atheist ascendancy

This is an editorial written by Prof. Ronald Aronson, whose lecture at Harvard was attended by some members of the group. The last paragraph really hits home:
Above all, rather than combating religious belief at every turn, many nonbelievers would cheer if the President initiated a genuinely multicultural approach to both believers and secularists in today’s America. This might entail, as was not done at the Democratic National Convention last August, inviting secularists as well as believers to platforms that normally exclude the irreligious (i.e. the “values and unity” event preceding the Convention that was exclusively for religious believers). It might entail as much political attention being paid to nonbelievers as believers at public events—transforming moments of prayer into moments of silence. In other words, it would mean abandoning the implicit assumption of so much of American public and private life that religious values, norms and practices apply to everyone—and show respect to American’s enormous nonreligious minority.

Chris Matthews Hammers Rep. Mike Pence on Evolution and Science

I recommend watching this video. It's refreshing to see media taking the side of science and reason. Matthews does a great job of not letting the point go and Mike Pence simply tries to dodge. It's really telling that he can't come out and say, one way or the other, if he supports evolution as described by science.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

From the news: Two takes on how Atheists are to live

For Aronson, the rejection of the autonomy myth is not only crucial to the formulation of a secular world-view that will allow us to feel at home in a universe without God, but also necessary if we are to move toward a more just and peaceful world. He says that to appreciate our mutual interdependence (which, he points out, has increased and intensified in recent times) can enable the secularists among us to experience our lives as deeply meaningful.
-- James Farmelant, in his review "Together without God" of Ronald Aronson's book Living without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided (Counterpoint Press, 2008).
Living without God isn't easy. But its very difficulty offers one other consolation—that there is a certain honor, or perhaps just a grim satisfaction, in facing up to our condition without despair and without wishful thinking—with good humor, but without God.
-- Steven Weinberg in his essay "Without God" for The New York Review of Books, an essay based on the Phi Beta Kappa Oration given at Harvard University in June 2008and, to a lesser extent, on other of his lectures and reviews.

From the news: God is good, but kittens are great

We atheists always have a problem with appearing bad mannered when we say what we believe. Take the God is Back duo's deployment of studies purporting to show that “Christians are healthier and happier than their secular brethren”, citing a Pittsburgh doctor's belief that going to church added three years to someone's life and a 1997 study that religiosity reduces blood pressure. To which I can riposte with all those other studies showing even better health outcomes for owning a pet. Which may appear churlish of me.
-- David Aaronovitch, on the thesis that belief in God is enjoying a resurgence, from his article "Rumours of God's return are greatly exaggerated" in the UK Times.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops"

From The New York Times:
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” the group’s 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman’s living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.
Says Picco, an organizer with the Connecticut Valley Atheists: "Great news for the good guys. I know that once we are able to get the word out, people can easily decide what the real truth is."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Charity Update

Jackie: $20
Zachary: $20
Olivia: $10
Cecilia: $25
Abra: $26
Nicole: $13
David: $13
Nick: $13
McCoy: $13
Andy: $13
Jamie: $13
Nora: $13
Trevor: $13
Suzann: $10
Jon: $30
Libby: $10
Nadia: $10
Calvin: $20
Courtney: $10
Barbara: $10
$305 thus far raised for the Boston Atheists first charity cause, Doctors Without Borders

Friday, April 24, 2009

The chorister's complaint about the pastor's plush pay

According to the NY Daily News, Manhattan's illustrious Riverside Church is paying its new pastor more than $600,000 in annual compensation. Church sources say Dr. Brad Braxton's annual package is to include:
  • $250,000 in salary.
  • $11,500 monthly housing allowance.
  • Private school tuition for his child.
  • A full-time maid.
  • Entertainment, travel and "professional development" allowances.
  • Pension and life insurance benefits.
  • An equity allowance for Braxton to save up to buy a home.
"Where's the social justice in this?" cries Diana Solomon-Glover, a chorister and one of several church members who filed suit to delay Braxton's appointment while the question of compensation is debated further.

We should social justice be more likely found in a church than elsewhere in society? Given the reality of the nonexistence of god, no church can claim the singular virtue of being inspired by ethical purity straight from the source. There ain't no source, of course. A church is merely a community come together as a congregation to share their peculiar values -- medieval, silly, humanistic, benign, etc., depending -- and to pursue communal goals. If the majority membership of this community has determined that its goals are best met, and its values best represented, by hiring a pastor who commands such a salary, then all the complaints of the choir are misplaced. I would hope that the Riverside community can muster charity enough to address the concerns of those irritated by the prospect of vasty sums wafting above the altar; a community should foster discussion when faced with dissent. I would hope that Dr. Baxter earns his salary, which in light of the Gospel message does strike this uninformed and disinterested nontheist as excessively grand. His scholarly and clerical credentials are sound <*knocks on wood*> and he might well apply this collective capital of Riverside, concentrated as it is in his paycheck, toward benevolent ends. Think of all the good the Rockefellers and Carnegies did, and weren't they religious leaders of a kind? Note the depth of meaning here.

Finally, while I am expressing hope, I would hope that rationality blooms among the Riverside congregants. Wouldn't it be nice if the resources of this 1,500-member-strong flock of well-to-dos were able to see that gathering regularly as People Who Care About One Another need not be done under the banner of superstition?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Boston Atheism Examiner

I have recently been accepted as the Boston Atheism Examiner for a website called Examiner.com. I'm really excited to be able to represent atheism for the Boston area on this website.

My first article is all about the need for Atheist communities, which features some insight from our own Zachary Bos and information on what the Boston Atheists group is about. I hope you enjoy it, and also you can subscribe to my journal via feedreader or email, the links are available on the site.

Despite joining the Examiner I will still continue to be a contributor to this blog.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CT Christians want a separate, but equal, gay-free economy

The Hartford Courant is reporting that a venomous faction wants the state of Connecticut to endorse religiously-motivated (read: antirational) prejudice by passing protection for business owners who want to withhold services from gay couples seeking support for the marriage process -- bakers of wedding cakes, wedding photographers, DJ slings of the "Chicken Dance," and so on: all the contractors whose collective work make matrimonial ceremony so impressive and expensive:
The Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Church and the Family Institute of Connecticut are asking the state legislature to create what they are calling a religious liberties exception [to allow businesses to turn away gay couples seeking gay marriage services] when it codifies the ruling that legalized gay marriage here. The effort was turned back in the legislature's judiciary committee, but proponents are hoping it will be brought forward on the Senate floor. A vote could come later this week. [from the April 21st Courant article]
I have no problem with this, as long as they make their case for bigotry on non-religious grounds. Presumably, they can call Yahweh to the stand to testify before the relevant court, or to the table to address the legislators in session? As long as their argument for discrimination does not aspire to transmute Biblical nonsense into legal action, why not? It's a free country. Discrimination against the Christian community has already cost them the Miss USA crown; what other indignations must they endure?

And in this free country, don't we have a history of workable solutions to the problem of an enlightened population wanting not to do business with a polluted minority? I propose we implement the lessons of history and establish a separate-but-equal faith economy, where those who take their moral cues from ignorant and badly edited treatises passed down from the deprived antiquity of certain desert cultures will be free to exchange silver for services in the small business way without ever tampering with their deeply-held and privileged belief that some kinds of love are disgusting.

The rest of us can pity their minority, but be comforted by the protection this solution affords the constitutional rights of all citizens. The division of the economy into two camps -- the Rational Ethical, and the Holy Homobigoted -- ensures through separation equal protection under the law.

I'm being unkind; I believe there are many decent people who oppose gay marriage, for reasons they do not understand and could not defend in earnest discussion. Conversation, outreach, kindliness, and education will go a long way toward curing them of their received prejudice. As for the homobigot leadership -- if they choose to segregate themselves in pockets of hate, what right have I to force them to mix with the general population? As long as they don't raise children (that is, abusively inculcate their offspring into a tradition of indefensible homobigotry) or vote (that is, allow their poisonous irrationality to contravene the political will of other, less delusional citizens), then they and I have no quarrel. Otherwise, quarrel we have. And quarrel I will.

And quarrel I do, with campaigns like that featured at http://www.actnowct.org. I pity their fear, and scorn their efforts to disguise irrationalist bigotry as laudable faith.

NB: The above commentary is provocative and satirical -- which qualities I do not think are sufficient to advance a serious discussion of policy between disagreeing parties -- but it does accurately convey my response to this campaign -- bafflement and outcry. If you run a business that's open to the public, the law does not protect discrimination of any kind, religious, racist, or other. I am willing to share my point of view, informed as it is by knowledge of state and constitutional law and by a surprising (even to myself) grasp of secular ethics, with any interested parties. In good faith, I extend this invitation to members of the Knights of Columbus Connecticut State Council, the Hartford Catholic Archdiocese, and/or the Family Institute of Connecticut, with whom I have shared this commentary by email.